Preparedness

Degrees of Progress - Emergency Management: Today and Tomorrow

by Kay C. Goss

Although emergency management, as a profession, has been around since its civil-defense origins more than fifty years ago, this is a particularly exciting time of rapid change for the profession of emergency-management in many ways, and on almost every front.

At the same time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), its lead agency, is growing stronger every day under the leadership of FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and William L. Carwile III, assistant administrator for disaster operations. The principles, mission, vision, and doctrine of emergency management are being developed, defined, and revised, with special focus on planning, textbooks, training courses, and college courses. Of even greater importance is the improved and continuing collaboration between and among local, tribal, state, federal, private, and non-profit partners, led by FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute and its Disaster Operations Directorate, with full participation from practitioner stakeholders, academic institutions, and interagency partners.

Standards, although voluntary, also are increasing in importance, acceptance, and application. As of late November, 21 states and three local governments had been accredited by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). FEMA funded two rounds of the accreditation evaluations for all states – one in 2004, the other one this year. Previously (in 1997 and 2000), the agency had asked states to conduct their own self-evaluations through the Capability for Readiness process.

EMAP built upon that experience, and 24 jurisdictions are now accredited: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia, as well as Jacksonville, Florida, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and San Diego County, California.

Four other jurisdictions – Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and the District of Columbia – are listed as “Conditionally Accredited” and have nine months to make the final upward adjustments needed before a second review checks them for full accreditation. Eventually, most if not all state as well as numerous local, regional, and campus emergency-management programs will apply for and receive similar accreditation. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of private and nonprofit agencies and organizations will go through the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 1600 process. Another sign of progress is that EMAP established a Private Sector Committee several years ago.

Several Steps Forward and a Global Outreach

DHS took another step forward last month by adopting NFPA 1600 as a recommended voluntary standard for the private sector. The NFPA 1600 standard was launched in 1991 and became the first on the emergency-management and business-continuity fronts. (Canada also has signed an NFPA 1600 arrangement, and intends to apply similar standards in that country.)

Standards bodies are becoming increasingly global in their outreach and partnership building. There is increasing interest, moreover, in applying the EMAP guidelines not only to states, counties, cities, tribes, and regions but also to other public-sector entities, including colleges and universities. The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) and the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) are the lead organizations in this effort, and both are growing rapidly in numbers and in their influence with FEMA, the Congress, the White House, governors, state legislators, mayors, and county executives, as well as in the quality of services they provide to members. (For additional information about IAEM click on www.iaem.com; for more about NEMA, click on www.nema.org.)

There has been significant progress in other areas in recent months. The ASTM (American Standards for Training and Materials), for example, has a School Emergency Preparedness Working Group collaborating with various stakeholder groups in developing guidelines related to school safety and security. And the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Emergency Management Agency and its counterparts in many other jurisdictions are encouraging inclusion of school emergency-preparedness instruction in the K-12 curricula.

Credentialing also is taking hold at both the state and local as well as national levels. Again, FEMA is leading the way with the credentialing of its own Disaster Reserve Workforce and its regular Disaster Workforce. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has funded several local credentialing projects such as the First Responder Authentication Credential (FRAC) program in Northern Virginia, as well as one in Colorado. Meanwhile, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is working closely with the private and nonprofit sectors on the credentialing of their own emergency-response teams.

Progress in Other Areas; Facebook and Best Practices

Advanced technology is taking emergency management to new heights of research, education, and analysis – and, of greater importance, to effective action. Interoperability has become easier, with progress dependent only upon building trustworthy partnerships, receiving adequate funding, and providing appropriate training. Social media provides common operating pictures and situational awareness, including Facebook – which less than three years ago, during the horrific massacre of Virginia Tech students and professors, helped other students keep in touch with one another to find out who had escaped and were safe, or were perhaps injured, as well as who had been killed. Twitter, YouTube, Emicus.com, and other here-and-now communications tools also are changing both the emergency-management profession and the leading agencies – at all levels of government, as well as in the private and nonprofit sectors, including IAEM and NEMA.

One “best practice” example is the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s  (VDEM) Virginia Interoperability Picture for Emergency Response – also known as VIPER, a particularly helpful tool that not only gives the Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) staff the ability to visually assess statewide emergency-management operations in real time but also automatically offers users instant access to essential local information through traditional Geographic Information Systems (GIS) layers. For example, if a locality is coping with a rapidly escalating traffic incident, VIPER will provide information about nearby hospitals; in the case of a hazardous-materials spill, VIPER will offer data about area schools; during a flood, VIPER will alert users to low-lying areas that might be affected.

According to VDEM, VIPER monitors environmental sensors and gathers data not only from VDEM's own crisis-management system but also from such external systems and entities as Computer Aided Dispatch, the National Weather Service, and the Integrated Flood Observation and Warning System. VIPER then performs an analysis of all of the information currently available and alerts the VEOC staff about the potential impact on critical infrastructure.

The VIPER Revolution: Degrees of Progress


This ability to evaluate how incidents visually relate to each other – combined with point-and-click access to essential local data – greatly speeds VDEM's coordination of response and recovery efforts at the state and local levels. VIPER has already aided the state's response not only during Tropical Storm Hanna earlier this year but also during the 2008 presidential election and the 2009 presidential inauguration activities.

In the future, VIPER's data will be available to other state and local government partners through data links that can operate with any GIS system. The data links will use widely accepted data standards, such as GeoRSS, .xml, and .kml, to promote a multi-platform model of GIS information sharing. VDEM developed this interoperable system so that agencies and localities will be able to share information with the VEOC regardless of the GIS systems they use, maximizing existing investments and minimizing future costs.

The goal of the FEMA Higher Education Program – launched in 1994* and operated since that time by Dr. Wayne Blanchard (the founding director of the program, and a senior FEMA career employee) – is to have an emergency-management degree program in every state. The number of such programs has increased from two degree programs 15 years ago to 173 now – with another 100 higher-education institutions considering and/or already in the process of developing and designing similar programs. During the same time frame, over 280 degree and/or certificate programs in homeland security/defense have been developed, and another 100 institutions are considering establishment of such programs.

The number of emergency-management programs will undoubtedly continue to grow exponentially for the foreseeable future. This year, the 11th annual FEMA Higher Education conference – held during the first week of June at the FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg, Md. – attracted approximately 400 attendees, from seven countries, and continues to grow larger every year. Very soon, there will be an emergency-management course on almost every U.S. campus; and almost every textbook on public administration is likely to include a separate chapter devoted to emergency management.

Increasing numbers of these degree programs are available, at least partially, online – and FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute offers increasing numbers (now about 200) of independent study courses, also online, with printable certificates available upon passage of the required examination for each. Increasingly, these same courses are available to international emergency managers. Completion of this education and training qualifies the recipient in the achievement of the IAEM’s Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) designation. There are now over 700 CEM®s worldwide. (Certification indicates that the recipient is a college graduate with 100 hours of emergency-management and 100 hours of general management training, plus six major public-service contributions to the profession beyond one’s own job, as well as an examination and an essay.)

With the increasing number of academic programs now available, there is a parallel need for accreditation processes to evaluate these programs on behalf of students, faculty, staff, the profession, and the general public. Accreditation programs are under development in both emergency-management and homeland security/defense – the Foundation for Higher Education Accreditation in Emergency Management for emergency-management degrees (www.ffhea.org) and the Homeland Security/Defense Education Consortium Association for homeland security/defense degrees.

Perhaps the crowning jewel of the preceding and other advances is that, during the last year, the U.S. Department of Labor began, for the first time, listing emergency management both as a profession and as a specialty.

*Kay M. Goss, author of the preceding article, played a key role in establishing FEMA’s Higher Education Program.

Kay C. Goss, CEM, possesses more than 30 years of experience – as a federal and state administrator and in the private sector – in the fields of emergency management, homeland security, and both public finance and intergovernmental operations. A former associate FEMA director in charge of national preparedness training and exercises, she is a noted lecturer as well as the author of several books and numerous articles and reports in the fields of homeland defense and emergency management.